Sleep, Teens and Back-to-School Season

And Additional Back-to-School Supports for the Whole Family!

The buzz of back-to-school time is in the air and certainly in our household. E, age fourteen, is starting high school and we are attempting to be thoughtful about how we assist him in this transition. Summer has a rhythm all its own. There’s a pleasant, relaxing swing and sway to summer even when there are many activities and all are busy. The school year, however, is all about focus and structure. And it can be quite a sea change for children and teens of every age and for the parents who love them too! 

Additionally, there is a growing recognition that paying attention to children and teen’s social and emotional development is not a nice-to-have at school or at home, it’s essential. And with the stress of a global pandemic and its ripple effects over the past few years, teachers’, parents’, and students’ well-being is at the forefront of our minds. Did you know, in a recent large survey of U.S. parents, 88% said they want their children to learn social and emotional skills?1

As we try and create a smooth transition, what do we need to consider? How can we help our kids, our teens and ourselves too in promoting our physical, social and emotional well-being as we launch into a new school year? That question alone is well worth reflecting on this season with our families. Among other issues, we know sleeping and waking routines can become one of the most challenging. Since kids and teens can exert control over sleep, it can become a power struggle that can turn pleasant evenings and busy mornings into stressful ones.

Adjusting to a New Sleeping/Waking Routine

One of the best ways we as parents can contribute to our student’s school success is ensuring they get enough sleep at night so they can focus on learning in school. Yet, sleep can be a contentious issue in families. After the freedom of summertime, who wants to go to bed early?  

With teens, sleep can be particularly challenging. Though we may think they are simply desiring to stay up late to play online games with friends, in fact, the brain and body changes they are undergoing support their night owl habits. Teens’ brains release the hormone that signals the body that it’s time to sleep — melatonin — a full two hours after adults and young children receive that signal.2 And that hormone surge for teens lasts well into the morning hours long after adults have stopped its production. So when teens awake earlier, they feel groggy incentivizing them to go back under the covers (or slog through the morning). Teen biology supports only the teen world (not the family’s routine!). 

We can respond to teens’ desire for independence by ensuring that they plan what evenings and mornings will look like and how they will take responsibility for their core needs. Here are some specifics on how to dialogue with your teen and family.

1. Discuss how much sleep is needed for your child/teen’s well-being.

First, be sure and talk about what science says is important for their nightly requirement. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that children aged 6–12 years sleep 9–12 hours and for teenagers, aged 13–18 years, they should sleep 8–10 hours.3 And because that requirement varies per individual, take note on a weekend how long your teen will naturally sleep.

2. Talk about what helps create the best conditions for sleep. Which of these might your teen agree to?

  • Encourage fresh air, outside time and exercise after school. 
  • Turn off digital devices an hour before bedtime to wind things down. During that time, you might:
  •       Take showers or bath.
  •       Lay out clothing for the morning, pack lunches and backpack for the next day.
  •       Start dimming lights. 
  •       Charge devices outside of the bedroom. Include all family members (adults too) and teens will feel a greater sense of fairness than if it’s just their rule.
  •       Use calming apps designed for listening only or listen to calming music. We love Moshi or the Calm App.
  •       Read.
  • Plan for a consistent time to go to bed that ensures the required sleep.

3. Create systems to empower responsibility.

You may consider where your greatest challenges lie and then ask family members what creative solutions they can imagine might help? These might include:

  • an old school alarm. Yes, you can use an alarm that is not on your phone! And that plain alarm won’t temp a teen into checking social media before they greet the family for breakfast. Help along that all-important skill of self-management.
  • a checklist of the morning routine and responsibilities. Checklists work. Keep in a high traffic area so all family members can refer to it.
  • a checklist of all the stuff your teen needs to take with them to school. Keep this right by your exit door. This has saved us many a car turn-around from the realizations of what’s been forgotten.
  • co-created rules especially related to devices. When is it fair and healthy to use them? When do you need to put them away? These discussions help our teens develop responsible decision-making skills as they wrestle with what is fair not only for themselves but for their whole family.

These routines don’t need to be established immediately. Ease in. Sometimes discovering the pain of not having a routine can incentivize all family members to proactively plan for a cooperative evening or morning! 

If you have time before school begins, then it’s ideal to ease back into the sleep routine with a staggered earlier bedtime and earlier wake time each day. If your teen is already back in school, co-create a plan with specific times together that seems fair and reasonable to all so that you don’t wind up in a nightly power struggle. These simple steps at the start can help establish healthy habits that can see you through the entire school year. Here’s to many happy, healthy school days ahead!

Have younger siblings? Here are some additional back to school resources that may support the rest of your household!

Adjusting to Kindergarten; Exhilarating, Exhausting, Emotional

The Morning Routine

Establishing or Reinventing Home Routines and Responsibilities for Learning Success

Monkey Mind at Bedtime; Reflecting on Children’s Thinking


Confident Parents, Confident Kids is celebrating its ten year anniversary next Thursday, August 25th. Look for the sign up to join the full Confident Parents Team (all 6!) from 12:00-1:00 p.m. ET, 9-10 PT for a panel discussion and toast. More to come soon!


  1. Edge Research. (2022). Parent Mindset Related to COVID-19, the Return to School, and Mental Health; Findings from a Tracking Survey of Public School Parents of K-12 Students. Alexandria, VA: National Parent Teacher Association.

2. Jensen, Frances E. 2015. The Teenage Brain; A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide for Raising Adolescents and Young Adults. London, England: Harper Thorsons.

3. CDC Healthy Schools. Sleep in Middle and High School Students. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

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